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Where have all the young fogeys gone ?

October 19th, 2004

One of the features of the post-election that has struck me is its similarity to themes that emerged in the Thatcher years in the UK. For example, Miranda Devine’s claims about youthful support for the Liberals, taken down here by Don Arthur, reminded me of talk about the young fogeys who were redefining cool in the Tory mould. These people would have been in their twenties then, and in their early forties now, but, while some of the individuals who set the tone are still around, the generation they were supposed to symbolise is lost to the Tories. According to Wikipedia, the average age of Tory party members is 65.

This post by Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber makes the point that the Tory attempt to remake Britain in a free-market mould was a catastrophic failure, at least in party political terms.

. By crushing unions, privatizing state industry, trying to shift the North England economy from manufacturing to retail commerce, introducing market reforms to the welfare state, and flogging off public housing, the British Conservatives systematically tried to create a new class of Tory voters that would permanently marginalize Labour. The result was the transformation of the Conservatives into a near-permanent minority – thirteen years later, British voters still don’t trust the Conservative party anywhere near the public services.

Those engaging in triumphalism on the conservative side of Australian politics ought to learn from this lesson

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  1. Steve Edwards
    October 19th, 2004 at 22:25 | #1

    That might be a good point. Instead, the Liberals should concentrate on depriving Labor’s support base of income: abolishing the Australia Council, the HREOC, the Department of Multicultural Affairs, etc, while flogging off the ABC and forcing universities to abolish 1/3 of their humanities (particularly cultural studies, women’s studies, and the like). The list is endless.

    The windfall from all these freed up funds could be thrown at Medicare, maybe an aircraft carrier or two, etc. The Libs should decimate Labor’s cultural base, while bribing Labor’s economic base with higher tax-free thresholds and other goodies.

  2. Mark Upcher
    October 19th, 2004 at 23:40 | #2

    John

    Howard is to canny to engage in triumphalism and he is far more subtle in his attempts to undermine and weaken the support base of the Labor Party than Thatcher ever was. He will use his Senate majority to complete the privatisation of Telstra (which like the GST will then drop off peoples’ radar as an issue) and push through further IR reforms and change the cross media laws. These will have the effect of strengthening his support base (from the media and business) and weakening Labor’s support base (unions). The important point is that he has been advocating these policies since 1996 and so he can claim a mandate. The policies should not come as a surprise to the electorate and unless the implementation goes badly astray I cannot see the Coalition being punished for these policies.

  3. Nicholas Gruen
    October 19th, 2004 at 23:41 | #3

    They have.

  4. October 20th, 2004 at 00:19 | #4

    A question and an answer.

    The question is, are British Tories a single demographic bulge? If not, their average age isn’t telling us much about any later waves coming through (and any variations in their – as it were – ideology).

    The answer (to an implied follow up question) is this. The problem with Thatcherite dismantling of public services was that it was like freeing the slaves without a transition (the US rather than the British or Brazilian way). It did a wealth transfer without introducing replacement institutions.

    That means it didn’t do any promotion of people into new roles with less need of public services, at any rate not enough in step with changes. Proper promotion would eliminate any need for excessive levels of public services either. There wouldn’t be a problem with cutting them. The error was in the transition, not the destination; social democracy, however, doesn’t even get us out of the dependency, and so guarantees a future without hope of progress.

  5. tipper
    October 20th, 2004 at 01:17 | #5

    John
    I’m not really sure where you are going with this. Everyone agrees that Tony Blair and the “New Labour” essentially stole the Tories policies and have gone even further than the Tories would have dared go, e.g. scrapping Student Loans etc.
    The Tories biggest mistake was picking Major instead of Heseltine. The’ve never recovered from that blunder. Not that there was any pressure on them, with New Labour carrying out all their policies. The “Young fogies” moved en masse to Blair.
    The situation in Australia is completly different. It’s the Labor party who are losing young voters. The Labor Party in Victoria, for instance, now has an average age over 50.
    For a good exposition on this phenomen, see Jacinta Collins article in the Age ” Why the young are deserting the Labor Party”
    Amongst the points she makes are:
    ” A Morgan Poll one week before the 2001 federal election found that in the 18 to 24 age group, 28.8 per cent said they would vote Liberal-National, 44.6 per cent Labor, 6 per cent Democrat and 11.7 per cent Green.

    Another Morgan Poll, in July this year, found that among 18 to 24-year-olds, 35.2 per cent indicated they would vote Liberal-National, 41 per cent Labor, 2.9 per cent Democrat, and 14.6 per cent Green.

    So, since 2001 Labor’s support among young people has fallen by 3.6 percentage points, and the Democrats’ by 3.1 percentage points. But support for the Liberal-National parties among young people has increased by 6.4 percentage points, and support for the Greens has increased by 2.9 percentage points.

  6. still working it out
    October 20th, 2004 at 08:52 | #6

    As a youngish person (27) I can completely understand the disenchantment with Labour. They just do not seem to have any vision of what they want Australia’s future to be at all.

    The only thing Labour seemed to want to talk about in the previous election was putting more money in Health and Education. That sounds ok, but you are not going to create real support for the Labour party if your plan for Australia’s future seems to be limited to a shopping list.

    My support has moved to the Greens. At least something would change if they were ever elected. Its just hard to think of a reason to actually vote for Labour.

  7. oddbod
    October 20th, 2004 at 09:19 | #7

    These discussions seem to forget that there is a very strong 3rd party in UK politics, the Lib-Dems, born out of a split of some moderate conservatives and the intellectual right of the old Labour party (e.g. highly eminent people like Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Shirley Williams, any one of whom make Australia’s politicians look like a complete disgrace). I am less impressed with the current crop of Lib-Dem leaders, but nevertheless they represent a potent and real force in UK politics which clearly is not a two party horse race. I suspect the UK political landscape would look very different under proportional representation and Blair’s dominance much less stark.

    Of course, don’t forget, Labour in the UK got into power and has remained there by becoming “New Labour” which was basically old Labour without the trade unions. If Australian Labor can recover from the post-election implosion it seems to be having, then a similar, credible re-badging would take it a long way towards attracting aspirational swing voters who want better social and public infrastructure but who have clearly voted with their feet to leave unions in their droves.

  8. October 20th, 2004 at 10:36 | #8

    Part of the problem for the Tories is that they have lost people like me: if I were in the UK, I would be a Labour voter and I know this to be true of many people in financial markets in London.

  9. Andrew Norton
    October 20th, 2004 at 13:25 | #9

    And the UK Tories have lost people like me too, with their idiotic higher education policy. If I was English I just wouldn’t vote until the Tories improved.

  10. October 20th, 2004 at 16:50 | #10

    P.M.Lawrence asked:

    Are British Tories a single demographic bulge?

    The answer is clearly yes, and it requires no demographic data whatever to know this.

    Any privatisation is, by definition, a one-off feeding frenzy. Those not even in the meal-queue at the time – and in Australia, this strongly correlates with those born post 1963 – are left holding negative equity in the space where there was once a public assets.

    The only surprise in all this is the extraordinary complacency of most of my (post 1963) generation, about this theft of our birthright, for which we have received not a dime.

  11. paul2
    October 20th, 2004 at 17:42 | #11

    Mark Upcher writes that the privatisation of Telstra will drop off peoples’ radar as an issue.
    Not if we end up with timed local calls, as in the UK…

    Paul Watson, you sick boy, you should be revelling in your freedom from servitude, and freedom of choice. Shouldn’t you?

  12. October 21st, 2004 at 10:44 | #12

    Timed local calls are not going to be the huge issue you seem to think. Most people already pay a time charge by the use of their mobile phones. A significant proportion of people don’t even keep a land-attached phone in their house.

    Timed local calls were a big issue in the days of dialup internet, but not so much now in the days of ADSL where a phone call is not required to connect.

  13. oddbod
    October 21st, 2004 at 12:00 | #13

    A very interesting article by Barry Cohen in the Australian today helps to reinforce the narrow make-up of the Labor party and hence their limited appeal to the wider public – below is a cut and paste of some of his comments (one should especially note the complete lack of anyone with any real business experience or ‘real world’ economic credientials) :

    “In the section titled Occupations Before Entering Parliament, there seemed to be a singular lack of variety (in the Labor caucus). I amused myself by doing a detailed analysis.
    When I finished, I could hardly believe my eyes. With three exceptions, all fell into one of six categories: lawyers, public servants, party and union officials, state MPs and their staff, and teachers.

    It is difficult to imagine a more incestuous group. An evening listening to a discussion of their life experiences would have been riveting. Almost all, if you’ll excuse the expression, had spent their lives on the public tit.

    Behold the results of an analysis of the recent parliament: union officials, 29; teachers, 18; state MPs and ministerial staff, 16; public servants, 14; party officials, 8; lawyers, 8.”

    See : http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,11131730%255E7583,00.html

  14. October 21st, 2004 at 12:09 | #14

    Pr Q attempts a form of political equivalence between Thatcher and Howard.

    The result was the transformation of the Conservatives into a near-permanent minority – thirteen years later, British voters still don’t trust the Conservative party anywhere near the public services.
    …Those engaging in triumphalism on the conservative side of Australian politics ought to learn from this lesson


    The “Thatcher doomed the Tories” thesis has been argued, with considerable eloquence, by that splendid firm of reactionaries Dalrymple & Hitchens. There is something to it, but not quite the way Pr Q runs it.
    The worst thing a great national leader can do to his/her own party is force the opposition party to come to its senses. Thus Fraser forced the Whitlamite-ALP into Hayden-sanity. Reagan forced the McGovernite-DEMs into Clinton-sanity. And Thatcher forced the Footite-LABs into Blair-sanity.
    The comparison b/w Thatcher and Howard is illuminating mainly because it shows the latter’s political skills up to advantage.
    Thatcher was an economic elitist and a political populist. Her success was always based on her more muscular version of political populism ie Brtisish nationalism which – in its anti-IRA, anti-EEC, anti-USSR, anti-ARG forms – seemed right for the times.
    She was brought down by the elitism of her economic program which degenerated into City-beholden patronage and poll-tax madness. The obsolescence of British nationalist political populism in post-Cold War cosmo-Euro did the rest.
    Howard is an accross-the-board populist in Left-economic, Right-cultural and Centre-political matters. There is little chance of him reverting to wholesale economic elitism in this parliament. I predict that, if he wants to keep his Vital Centrist coaltion stitched together, he will at most go in for a bit of union bashing, shaving the top marginal tax-rate and perhaps some more governement our-sourcing to political cronies. He certainly sounds very Uriah Heepish at the moment.
    PS As far as “conservative triumphalism” goes, I trust the gratutitous advice is not directed towards my self. I voted ALP and regard Howard’s form of economic populism as irrational. I also think that Howard’s Pacific Solution bastardisations and Iraq-attack deceptions were pushing the envelope of decency. But, in a time of cultural identity and national security crises, preferable to Theophan-oid and Carmen-oid rorts and follies.
    FWIW, I wish the progressive-liberal wing of the AUS polity all the best. All liberal polities need a healthy progressive wing, to keep the bastards honest and to ensure that sleave-worn hearts throb with sufficient health to protect the underdog.
    Regrettably, over the past decade or so, the evidence indicates that progressive-liberal cultural elites have been obsessed with dogmatic political style over pragmatic policy substance. And their style has degenerated from a positive humanitarian to a negative Howard-hating form.
    Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see Howard’s victory knocking some sense into the cultural elites, just as Thatchers victories knocked some sense into Labour. But, going by the head-in-the-sand denial and outrage of Ramsey, Kingston et al, it seems that cultural elites are not yet drawing the right take-home lesson from their serial drubbings.

  15. October 22nd, 2004 at 21:41 | #15

    Demographics favour howard.
    According to the oz there are 13 million voters and 5.5 million are over 50.
    Pity the young,we will rule over them for amny years to come.

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